“ Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot” is about a paraplegic cartoonist, and it is replete with fine acting. This bio-pic stars the talented Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is in almost every frame, and he seems to inhabit John Callahan the way he did Theodore Twombly in the fabulous “Her”( reviewed Feb. 10, 2015), and in Joe, the damaged marine and former FBI agent, in “You Were Never Really Here” ( reviewed June 2, 2018). It is Oscar time for Joaquin ! He inhabits Callahan like he did Johnny Cash in “Walk The Line” ( 2005) with humor, pain and alcoholic isolation.
Rooney Mara, our star’s real life partner, plays his romantic interest. As a Swedish nurse and therapist, and later a flight attendant, she opens John to moments of joy without which the film would be too depressing, like when at an Alcoholic Anonymous group session, Kim Gordon as Corky says, “ Maybe life is not as meaningful as we think it is.” The therapist responds with, “ That’s quirky.”
Jack Black is a great Dexter, the passed out driver of the 1970’s baby blue Beetle” that changes Callahan’s life. Jonah Hill is extraordinary as A.A. mentor, Donnie Greene. 1970 West Coast speak is alive and well.
Gus Van Sant, of “Good Will Hunting” ( 1997) fame wrote, directed and edited “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”. Based on a true tragedy like his “Milk” (2008), Van Sant could have used help on the editing. Much of the film seems like long monologues of excuses, pity, and grief, and subsequent forgiveness lessons. I would have liked to have seen more of Callahan’s creative work in cartooning and songwriting. There was too much adolescent partying and silly antics portrayed. Teenage behavior can get boring, even making fun of the song “ Blowin’ in the Wind”. Rachel Welch’s private parts as “god” hits a new low for the famous.
Some of the best scenes are watching Phoenix gleefully accost strangers on the street and in libraries and in donut shops sharing his cartoons. His attendant Tim, as an abusive enabler, is more difficult to watch as is John’s hospital despair as doctors review his chart and seem to forget he is there.
Lots of film time is taken up with Step #12. We see John rolling out “forgivenesses” to friends, past teachers, a shirt store owner, Dexter, social workers and bureaucrats. and crossing their names off his list. By the time Callahan forgives his forever absent mom, we are tired.
The last playful scene asks us if John Callahan grew up before he died. I will leave that to the viewers.